Wheeling in a success

THERE WAS a time when one would have to mentally prepare oneself before venturing to travel within the city. To coax, cajole and appeal to the unfriendly local autorickshaw driver, to get a ride at a price.

Today, when people want to travel, they are reaching for the phone. This is the era of the call taxis.

Like everything else, this class of travel has arrived late. But then, better late than never, as they say. Telephones and radio trunking have brought passengers and taxis together, and the autorickshaw is watching with some apprehension.

While the three-wheeled autos watch, the tribe of call taxis is growing. Metro Call Taxi is the latest to enter. The familiar Maruti Omnis with the service numbers splashed on their sides were launched by Metro recently.

The new entrant has a fleet of 15 cars, and plans to increase it to 50 by January. The tariff is Rs. 30 minimum for three km, and Rs. 8 per km thereafter. For waiting, it is Rs. 2 for five minutes, says Mr. C. Sivakumar, Director of the company.

These are points which the city passenger is now familiar with. What he does not know, is that the call taxi companies are an increasingly happy lot.

An informal study by Metro shows that people are pleased with the arrival of the call taxi option. This is the standard choice for trips to Chennai Central and the airport.

The popularity, say those using the services, is directly attributed to the poor image of autorickshaws. People are willing to pay for service, provided they get it with some reliability and comfort.

Also, the van is the chosen model of vehicle, as it has quick entry and exit, and can take luggage. The Ambassadors operated by an operator are also popular, for both room and luggage capacity.

Will we see more taxis entering the market? The operators have no doubt that they will thrive. The relative safety and comfort at a metered rate is something far superior to the autorickshaws.

Are the autorickshaw Unions alert? Could not they use radio trunking technology for their own members, rather than keep them in the stone age and tacitly encourage illegal operations?

The answer, according to some, is that there is a strong group within the autorickshaw operators, which resists any streamlining of their service. There is more money in the present pattern. This group, however, has ushered in the call taxi - and worked hard for its success.

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